How To Make Your CV Stand Out

In these times of economic strife, you’re lucky if you already have a job. We unemployed folks need every little bit of help we can get, and that’s especially true when it comes to job applications. Like all the specialists tell you, your CV is your personal sales brochure, and it really has to pop. But, as anyone who has been out of work long enough can tell you, for every CV specialist out there, there’s an opinion on how your CV should look. No two people will agree on how your CV should be formatted. It’s confusing, it’s frustrating, and it just doesn’t help.

After a lot of research, workshops and discussions (read: arguments with pig-headed “instructors”), I’ve come up with a few pointers that go a long way to making your CV stand out from the hundreds your potential employer will see, but that many “specialists” don’t mention. A lot of these will seem small, almost trivial - but they will have a surprisingly large psychological impact on your prospective employer, and give you the excellent first impression you need to get the interview.

Before we begin…

I’m not going to tell you what to write in your CV, what sections to include or what buzzwords to use. This one’s about appearance, not content. Shallow as it seems, employers do judge these particular books by their covers. First impressions are everything in job applications, and the presentation of your CV will be the first thing employers notice, not its content, unfortunately.

You will need:

  • Your CV in digital format
  • Your chosen word processor in which to edit your CV

Method:

  1. Your CV should be two pages long; no more, no less. If this means using a little double spacing between words or lines, so be it. But don’t go overboard. If you’re fresh out of school and haven’t got a lot of work experience under your belt yet, then one page will suffice. Too much blank space gives the impression of inflating your achievements to make yourself look more impressive, and will certainly put an employer off.
  2. Use a serif font - but NOT Times New Roman. Many people argue that print in a serif typeface gives an impression of being more intellectual than it would in a sans-serif typeface. Some students have actually seen their grades improve when they have started submitting assignments printed in a serif font. But don’t choose Times New Roman - it’s a default font that’s been overused, and it doesn’t scan very well on paper.  Choose another font; I recommend Georgia or Palatino Linotype.
  3. Use no more than two fonts. One is plenty, but you may use another font for section headings - even a sans-serif font this time. Don’t mix and match fonts within the body of your CV. A smart, uniform look to match that suit you’ll be wearing to your interview is your aim. It’ll give your prospective employer the impression that you’re a neat and tidy person from the get-go, even before they’ve seen your shiny shoes and freshly-pressed trousers.
  4. The body of your CV should be sized between 10pt and 12pt. Anything smaller than 10pt, even if you’re trying to cram a lot of information in, will be difficult to read. But bigger than 12pt suggests the same thing as using too much blank space in your content. If you like, you can choose to make your headings a little bigger than 12pt, but keep your content smaller - and make sure it’s the same size throughout!
  5. Keep the margins to default settings. Narrowing the margins to fit in more content will only make your lines longer and more difficult to digest. But don’t make them wider either - again, too much blank space!
  6. Center your name and contact details at the top. This is standard practice, of course, but there’s a good reason for doing this. It differentiates your CV from business letters, and lets the employer know that they’re holding a job application straightaway.
  7. Align all text below your contact details to the left. Don’t use any indentations. It makes your CV that much harder to skim through, and that’s all your employer will do when they first receive it. Unfortunately, if you have any bullet-point lists, your word processor will more than likely indent these by default. To correct this, select the bullet-pointed text, and move the indent marker on your ruler so that the text aligns with all the surrounding text, and that the bullet point itself is even further to the left - typographists call this hanging the bullets. If you’re having trouble fitting in everything you want within two pages, this little trick should help enormously.
  8. Black text on white paper - no colours or graphics! Only folks applying for jobs in art or design can get away with showing off their techniques with their CVs. But for any other kind of job, keep your text 100% black (no grey), and print on standard white A4 paper. Avoid using fancy papers - it makes you look snooty and might put your employer off.

Further reading:

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